The Bald Spot

July 8, 2008
By Divya Ayyala, New Orleans, LA

His seat is pushed far too back to be a courteous flyer. He is certainly infringing upon my personal space. He has a bald spot encircled with brown hair. Well, at least the top half of his head is brown. I really don’t know about the bottom half: the blue vinyl of the airplane seat is covering it. Therefore, I must not assume that he has brown hair. So, at the end of the day, all I really know about the man who is sitting approximately a half a foot away from me is that he is a balding half brown haired man who doesn’t know how to maintain his personal space. I wonder where he’s flying back from. I wonder why he feels the need to recline so much (it’s bad for his back). I wonder why he has no courtesy for other people’s private space. I wonder about all these things, and I do what I love to do the most; I make a story.
He’s coming home: home to po-boys, music festivals, humidity, mosquitoes, Mardi Gras, potholes, Emeril Lagasse, the French Quarter, beignets, coffee and chicory, and Magazine street. He is coming back to a town which has managed to preserve its quaintness through the Louisiana Purchase, Reconstruction of the South, and the Civil Rights movement. He is coming back to New Orleans. He is relieved to return to the place where it is normal to meet someone you know on the streets while you’re getting snowballs. He is ecstatic to be back to the “sportsman’s paradise” of the world, to where lazing around and sipping chardonnay on his porch while the hours tick away lazily on a Sunday afternoon is a tradition, not a luxury. He is relieved to return to his life, a life that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, and so he leans back in his vinyl chair, unbuttons the top buttons of his shirt, and settles down to sleep, to pass the time away till he’s back home.
He is looking forward to seeing his dog and his family. His kid is waiting for him at the doorstep right about now, he thinks, as he closes his eyes. His wife is making dinner, something easy like spaghetti. He leans back and thinks, ‘Its going to be good to be home.’
He hated North Dakota. It was too big, so big that there weren’t enough people to fill the spaces in between buildings and empty grasslands. It was so dry; his body had formed a hard layer of parched cracked skin without the humidity. It was so impersonal. When he went to go get a cup of coffee at the local Starbucks he didn’t see a neighbor, an old college buddy, or a relative; all he saw was the sea of faceless people with lives of their own, unwilling to share a bit of their warmth with a stranger. He hated North Dakota.
And so, he ended up back on the plane. Four days was enough for him. Thank god the conference was only four days; he was starting to get bored. He didn’t know anyone there so all he did was watch television in his expensive room in the Hilton. As a consequence, he was never tired and had trouble falling asleep.
At last, when he was quite assured that he was on his way back home, away from the miserable place, he was able to sit back, relax, and sleep.
So now I sit here, looking at his bald spot glistening in the night light above my head and trying to type with a half closed laptop (I cant open it completely because the seat is in the way). Everyone is sleeping around me and I am up weaving stories in my head in an urgent race to know everything, to know everyone, to reach some understanding of the world and the people that surround me. I am people watching.

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